The American tenor, Vern [Everett Lavern] Sutton, grew up in Oklahoma City, where he was the neighbourhood kid always organising shows. His vocal talents gained him an audition at age 9 with a prestigious national boy choir. He won a spot in the group, but was devastated to learn he'd have to leave home, attend a boarding school and tour for a year. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1960 from the Austin College in Sherman, Texas (a Presbyterian college founded in 1849), where he studied voice with Bruce Lunkley, who became later President of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (1976-1979). After college Sutton came to Minnesota to take a job directing a church choir (1956), completed a masters of art degree in musicology at the University of Minnesota, and in 1978 made his Ph.D. also there (Thesis/dissertation: The solo vocal works of Nicola Porpora : an annotated thematic catalogue).
During his 47 years in Minnesota (1956-2003), Vern Sutton has collaborated with most of the major musical organisations as a singer, actor, director and educator. In 1963 he was a founding member of the Center Opera Company, which later became the Minnesota Opera, and has, throughout his career, been closely associated with contemporary opera, having music written specifically for his voice by Dominick Argento, Robert Ward, Conrad Susa, and Libby Larsen, among others. For 36 years (1967-2003) he was an award-winning Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Music, directing the Opera Theater (for thirty years) and teaching music classes. Sutton has also worked with opera companies and theaters across this country and in England, singing, directing, and teaching master-classes.
Vern Sutton is a particularly fine actor and versatile artist, active in opera (both classical and contemporary) as well as the concert field. As s singer and actor, he has sung over 60 different roles. He also has an affinity for country and western music. For thirteen years he was a regular guest on Garrison Keillor's original A Prairie Home Companion on American Public radio. He also showed his improvisational skills as a frequent guest on the A Prairie Home Companion radio program. Sutton is known for bringing live opera to dozens of rural communities in the upper Midwest. He created Opera on the Farm, as the program was called, after watching a College of St. Catherine production of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land.
In his retirement from the University of Minnesota (2003), for four summers Vern Sutton became the Artistic Director of Opera in the Ozarks, one of the oldest summer opera training programs in the country located near Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He has been an actor in the Guthrie's production of A Christmas Carol for five seasons and last summer played Lewis Morris of New York in the Guthries 1776 production. Sutton sang on the very first Prairie Home Companion, was a regular guest for the first 13 years of the broadcast, and still occasionally pays a visit to Garrison Keillor's show on PRI. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award at Austin College in 2003.